My apologies. I’m really trying to move this space away from being a place to hold all my sadness. I think I’m almost through the woods when another dark curtain falls and I again find it hard to breathe. And I, again, need a safe, quiet, space with familiar people where I can make sense of the stories and words thrashing in my head. And so here I am. Again.
Over the past several months I’ve felt the tide of anger rising. I’ve watched, somewhat detached and curious, how the level has risen. At first it was rose somewhere in my knees and I barely knew it was there. At times I could sense it, almost like you sense the anger in others, but I couldn’t actually feel it. It was like watching anger through a TV screen. Then it moved to my head where I could describe it, where it invaded my thoughts with impulsive images of me punching my abusers. But again, I couldn’t exactly feel it. Then, in the past week it has finally settled in my chest. A crushing pressure that literally makes inhaling laborious. I can feel it now, hot and furious. It pulsates and radiates down my extremities. I want to find some quiet, abadoned Minnesota corn field and scream until my voicebox gives out and then scream some more until I can never speak again. I want to punch through glass windows and kick down entire walls. I want to knock on J’s door and run some brass knuckles through his face.
It’s terrifying. And so far all I’ve actually been able to do in lie in bed and cry quietly into my pillow.
Yesterday at my therapy appointment I was telling M some of my most closely guarded stories. I was telling her how, recently, several different pieces fell into place and I was starting to see my childhood in larger swathes instead of just isolate points of cryptic memory.
We were talking about J. And I can’t remember now exactly how it came up, but she mentioned that he was a diagnosable psychopath that delighted in the torture of others.
When she said this I couldn’t breathe. Literally couldn’t breathe. Then I started hyperventilating and almost fainted.
I grew up in the house of psychopath. He delighted in torturing me.
Even though I have a grasp of that they mean, I had to look up these words. I think of “psychopaths” as deranged killers and “torture” as a physical means of extracting information from enemy combatants. Surely these did not apply to me.
Psychopath*: A person who (to most people) is generally likeable and has good social skills, but feels no remorse or empathy. This combination makes them particularly dangerous to their victims.
Torture: “a means of inflicting extreme pain as a punishment… or for sheer cruelty. Extreme anguish of body or mind.”
The “psychopath” thing sure explains a lot. Adults loved J. They thought he was friendly and funny. In fact, he was so likeable that when he and my mom applied for a foster care license, they were granted one. The state paid my mom and J to “take care of” vulnerable children. At one point, J pinned down one of the foster kids (D) and screamed in his face. The kid wrestled free and ran upstairs to lock himself in a room and call his social worker. He tried to tell his social worker what was happening at our house. The social worker told D that J was a nice guy who would never do that and to please stop lying.
That was the nail in my coffin. It was so clear to me that no one would ever believe us and there was no escaping. If child protection was on J’s side, I was doomed.
Another memory: J is beating my brother. I am crying and asking him to stop. He comes over to me and informs me that crying for anyone else is a waste of time. I should be happy if I’m not the one being beaten.
I never, ever remember J saying sorry, showing empathy, or caring about the feelings of others. Never. And that realization makes me so sick I’m afraid I might vomit.
And this information casts entirely new light on my entire childhood, on my entire life. Suddenly behaviors that seemed like mistakes or oversights are now the methodical methods of a man who delighted in seeing me suffer. For instance, J listened to books on tape. He particularly enjoyed gruesome mystery novels. And he would listen to them at high volume outside my bedroom door right after I went to bed. I had always assumed that he didn’t realize how loud they were. Now I think that he loved that I would have to go to sleep to the description of serial killers who dug their victim’s eyeballs with screwdrivers.
And this whole time my mom barely acknowledged my existence. Except to make sure that I did exactly what J wanted. My mother made sure that I was always available to, and obeying, a psychopath.
I guess that explains the anger. Now I just need to find a (safe) way to process it. God, this sucks.
*As therapist described it. In popular media there are many interpretations of “psychopath”, some more accurate than others.